Spartans stout defense declines to cast wary eye at anemic offense

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Lincoln, Neb. — Michigan State insists it won’t be pointing fingers.

That is getting tougher to do each week for the Spartans’ defense, which was outstanding again on Saturday only to, once again, watch the offense fail to reach the end zone in a 9-6 loss to Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

“The defense played outstanding,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

As much as poor offense has been a theme this season, playing well defensively has, too. But even holding a Nebraska offense that had gained more than 600 yards in two of its previous four games to just 248 and no touchdowns wasn’t enough.

The Cornhuskers took advantage and kicked three fourth-quarter field goals for the win, and that had the defensive players putting as much of the loss on themselves as their offensive teammates.

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“We are here for a reason, all of us players, and it is because we can make those plays,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “You look at the game and you could point fingers at anyone but you just point the thumb at yourself for not making the play. Maybe in the defense, you bust your coverage, that is not on the coaches. Offensively, if you drop a ball that’s not on the coaches.

“You make those plays that we have all done before, we have all made them before so there is no pointing fingers here. Own up to it and we’ve got to live with that.”

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Bachie is right in the sense that the defense didn’t make every play. He even put plenty of the blame on the defense for not closing the game out despite holding a 6-0 lead entering the fourth quarter.

“I think we have really good football team, a really good defense,” Bachie said. “But like I’ve been saying, the fourth quarter has been killing us and we’ve got to find out a way to finish in those situations. Yeah, we were put some bad field positions with the penalty, but we had a busted coverage, a guy right down the seam. We eventually got the stop, but you can’t have those lapses throughout the game.”

There weren’t many lapses. In fact, there were many more times the defense did its best to put the offense in position to score points.

The Spartans created two turnovers in the first half that netted nothing, the second being the most critical. It came early in the second quarter when Jacub Panasiuk sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who fumbled the ball, which was picked up by Kenny Willekes at the Nebraska 21. But Michigan State couldn’t find the end zone, and after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on tight end Matt Dotson pushed the ball back 15 yards, Matt Coghlin’s 41-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright.

Willekes continued his dominant play, recording four tackles for loss while recovering a fumble. Andrew Dowell had 10 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble while Bachie had nine tackles.

“The holes were closing fast today, faster than the average team,” Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo said. “Those guys had very good pursuit on every level. It was very tough, when you see a crease you have to hit it as fast as you can because they are going to come fill it.”

Michigan State (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) now heads into its regular-season finale against Rutgers with a defense that expected to be playing for bigger things than bowl position.

“I think our frustration is more so frustration because we want to win,” safety Khari Willis said. “I don’t think it’s any personal frustration or jawing back and forth. There’s nothing like that, but it’s definitely frustrating because we want to win these, especially when we feel like we’re playing well in certain areas.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau